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Friday, March 14, 2008

Beware of aggressive assessors!

I recently learned from a client who purchased a home in Fairfield County that at least one area town has developed a new way to uncover homes which are not properly assessed. After the individuals purchased the house, they were sent an additional tax bill based upon an increased assessment. They spoke with the town, and were informed that the town increased the assessment because the house had a finished basement which had never been reported to the town. According to my client, the finished basement had never been reported to the town because the prior owner had completed the work himself and had never taken out a building permit. Now for the $64,000 question: how did the town discover this? The town had recently started reviewing the data on the multiple listing service (MLS) and compared it to the assessment data. The house was advertised as having a finished basement, but there was no finished basement noted on the assessor’s card. This is very sneaky but nonetheless there are some valuable lessons to be learned. First, before buying a house, it is important to research the house fully. This includes reviewing the assessor’s records and comparing them to the information on the MLS. This will help to avoid any nasty real estate tax surprises down the road. Second, unlike New York where the practice is common, in Connecticut it is not customary for an attorney, home inspector or appraiser to review the records of the building and zoning departments. It certainly, however, is a prudent idea. Such a review will help determine if there is any gap in the required permits.



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